thoughtwisps One commit at a time

red lights

Content warning: this post mentions sex work and sex. If you are uncomfortable with either subject matter, please navigate away.

In 2018, I made a brief visit to Amsterdam to speak at a conference. I took notes during the trip, but was undecided about whether or not I should publish them. I’ve decided to do so today.

London to Amsterdam

The train is making its way through the Belgian and Dutch countryside. A bit after Brussels, we were diverted and are now 30 minutes late, still en route for Rotterdam though according to schedule we should have made it there by now.

A group of American (judging by the accent) tourists in the 4-seat cluster just ahead of me are discussing sex.

“You know what being a starfish means, right?” “Yeah, it’s like when you lie on your back like a 5 pronged star.”

Then, to the annoyance of my very very British (the topic of discussions here are the royal family, country homes and what to wear for a neighbour’s garden party) companions in the 4-seat cluster just behind them, the Americans change the topic of conversation to anal and start crunching Doritos.

The whole situation would be rather amusing had the seating lottery not cast me as the proverbial 4th wheel in this seating cluster of this very British family, who, by poor luck, has been separated from their son. They whisper about this just loudly enough for me to hear them through most of Dover and northern France and cast slight furtive looks in my direction.

As we near Rotterdam, the train starts to smell of stale cheese nachos or maybe that’s the aromatic accumulation of propped up feet liberated from the confines of their sweaty shoes.

We slow down to a complete crawl near Zwaluwe. Out of the window, the landscape alternates between cute houses and chemical transportation tanks.

Someone, perhaps in response to the nachos meet feet situation we have going on here, has cranked up the cooling in this place to a complete maximum and I am freezing. The father of the family, sitting opposite me in the 4-seat cluster, has taken offense with the lack of space and decided that my knees deserve less of it than his legs.

Summer evening

The air is sulty, saturated with the sounds of laughter and excitement. It’s not even 10pm, but the red light district is already a buzz. The movement on the streets has ground to a halt as groups of mostly drunk and mostly young men cluster around the red-tinted windows. There is a direct line of sight from the bars to the windows. A man finishes whatever is in his Heineken branded glass and his eyes dart toward the two windows in the building opposite the bar.

A bachelorette party passes by and the women smile gleefully and wave at the woman in the window. “You’re amazing!” they shout and smile. I suppose this is how they, the women in bachelorette party, feel edgy. After they have gone, a man walks by dressed as a gigantic inflatable penis. It looks like a wonderland of sexual exploration - but a wonderland designed by overly horny 20-something young men, whose ideas about sex come from mainstream pornography.

Glasses are shattered against the pavement, heads turn to locate the source of the noise. Someone cheers. Live sex show, just around the corner a sign proclaims. The crowd grinds to a halt as the groups of men look at the windows and heckle the women. A bit furter up the street, a woman in the window smiles and waves. Behind her, in the room, small reminders of the mundane. A bottle of water on the counter and some juice. Behind another window, a room with a bed and a cat. The pillowcase is patterned. The mundane details of work peering behind the surface. In an alley, two women lean out of the windows and one of them draws a few puffs from her cigarette.